by Paulina Villegas
Gabriela Saucedo was 22 years old when she arrived in the United States from Mexico in pursuit of the American Dream. Through years of hard work and perseverance, she managed to build a successful life in Arizona. Now, at 56, she believes President Trump is the best candidate to keep that dream alive.
Saucedo is among a coalition of Republican Latinos in the battleground state of Arizona who believe having Trump for a second term would guarantee their concerns and conservative social values — centered on the economy and faith — are protected and maintained.
“I want to have the opportunity to continue with my American Dream, that is why I came to this country as an immigrant,” said Saucedo, who became an American citizen in 1991 and is running for a position on the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
The Latino support for Trump could be deemed counterintuitive considering he rose to power on an anti-immigration platform and inflammatory rhetoric. In the 2015 speech that launched his presidential campaign, Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and drug dealers. In the years following his election, images of immigrant children in overcrowded detention centers dominated the news. The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected and killed people in the Latino community.
Yet many of his Latino supporters in the Copper State, overwhelmingly of Mexican descent, point to Trump’s business-oriented policies, such as lowering taxes and lifting regulations, as more consequential actions that, they say, have benefited wages and employment levels in their communities. This, along with religious conservatism — particularly antiabortion stances — are the reasons they want to see him reelected.
The rationale illuminates the different ways Latinos, predicted to become the largest group of non-White voters, are impelled to cast their vote based on factors that vary from state to state and reflect local dynamics. Although a majority of the group has traditionally supported Democrats, some Latino voters say they now find more common ground with Republican principles, challenging the notion of a monolithic voting bloc.
“It infuriates me that the government puts me in a box and calls me a Latino or a Hispanic or minority female,” Saucedo said. “It doesn’t work for me, because I am no different than other Americans in terms of the things that interest me: to be able to put food on my table, to have a job.”
“Most Latinos here, we are all in the same boat, especially the ones coming from Mexico like me,” Saucedo said. “We are luchadores, entrepreneurs, we fight for what we want. We just want to be left alone, and the government to let markets flow.”
Allegations of racism have marked Trump’s presidency and become key issue as election nears
The pragmatic logic behind the vote is simple, according to Reymundo Torres, a Mexican American Trump supporter and president of the Arizona Latino Republican Association. Latino entrepreneurs have much to gain from a “free, robust economy,” he said, governed by lower taxes and fiscal responsibility.
Higher taxes, generally viewed as a liberal policy, would hurt more than 3.3 million Hispanic-owned businesses in Arizona, he said.
Some residents such as Torres live in border states heavily dependent on trade with Mexico. They see the signing of the free trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada, negotiated under Trump, as beneficial for the local economy and crucial for the post-coronavirus recovery of jobs and wages.
But it’s more than just economic issues driving some Latinos to Trump. Rudolfo Peña, a 68-year-old registered Democrat and self-employed construction worker from Phoenix, said he witnessed the party’s gradual shift further to the left as he grew older. It was the party’s stance on abortion that first made him question his own political views.
It was Trump’s “willingness to fight back” against the political establishment, the media and the Democratic leadership, he said, that won him over. He will vote for Trump again Nov. 3.
“It was what we were waiting for, literally for decades,” Peña said.
Republican Latinos who spoke to The Washington Post argued that the excessive bureaucracy of liberal policies gets in the way of the Latino entrepreneurial spirit.
“I just don’t want to have to jump through so many hoops and endless paperwork to be able to make a living while Democrats willingly prefer to help those who don’t follow the rules,” Peña said.
Latinos transformed Arizona. Do campaigns see them?
Although Latinos remain a key constituency for the Democratic Party, their vote has fluctuated over the years. In 2004, George W. Bush secured a significant 44 percent of the Latino vote. Then the pendulum swung back in Democrats’ favor in 2012, when President Barack Obama took 71 percent.
But the enthusiasm for Democrats has wavered since: Hillary Clinton won 66 percent in 2016, compared with Trump’s 28 percent, according to network exit polls in 2016. In the run-up to the 2020 election, a Fox News poll published in the past week showed more Latino support for Trump than four years ago, with 57 percent supporting Biden and 41 percent supporting Trump.
Strategists and advocacy groups say the recent shift away from Democrats correlates with low levels of outreach in Latino and Hispanic communities from both parties.
“For a long time Democrats have taken Latinos for granted, and Republicans have ignored them,” said Clarissa Martínez de Castro, vice president of UnidosUS, a Latino advocacy group.
Martinez said the limited effort in both parties to court Latino voters is surprising considering the high level of Latino turnout in past elections.
“The word that best describes the outreach to Latinos is ‘anemic,’ ” she said. “That is why many of them remain unconvinced.”
But with a record 32 million eligible Latino and Hispanic voters, both campaigns are ramping up efforts to boost turnout and rally voters.
At a Latinos for Trump roundtable in Phoenix in the past week, Trump said “Hispanic Americans embody the American Dream” and reiterated his administration’s “unwavering devotion” to the community.
“You uplift our communities and promote our shared values of faith, family, community, hard work and patriotism,” Trump told a cheering crowd.
In Arizona, where Latinos make up about 24 percent of eligible voters, the political pendulum seems to be swinging to the left. Recent local and national polls show Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Senate candidate Mark Kelly (D) leading in tight races, raising Democrats’ hopes to flip the state and ultimately determine the election in November.
Latino groups warn that Biden’s sluggish outreach to their voters could hurt in November
A Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday shows Biden with the support of 49 percent of registered voters in Arizona vs. 47 percent for Trump, a difference that is within the poll’s margin of sampling error. In that poll, Biden’s 61 percent support among Latino voters is identical Clinton’s support in 2016.
The growth of the Latino population, an influx of more Democrats from California, and mobilization can help explain the political shift, experts say.
“The state is changing, and it is manifesting in various ways,” said Rodney Hero, a professor of political science at Arizona State University.
Hero said that wages and the economy remain top priorities among Latinos in Arizona. Also high on the list: health care, amid a pandemic which has disproportionately affected minorities and has left millions without jobs.
But residents such as Saucedo feel the Democratic Party has done little more than paid lip service to Latino voters for years.
“Democrats tell Latinos that they are their best choice,” Saucedo said. “But when it comes to needing their help, they do not help you. All they want is your vote, all they want is you as a victim.”
Many Latinos have been outraged by Trump’s clampdown on illegal immigration, his legal battles against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the massive deportation of central American immigrants. But for some Latino hard-liners in Arizona, including Saucedo, those issues are an afterthought. Instead, they are focused on Trump’s “law and order” message.
“I am a responsible adult, I came here legally without breaking any rules. The opportunities are there,” Saucedo said. “There is no excuse for anyone to take advantage of the system.”
Paulina Villegas is a reporter covering breaking news and national enterprise stories for The Washington Post. Previously, she worked at the New York Times’ Mexico bureau, where her work focused on drug crime, government corruption and human rights issues. @Paulina_VV